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I quote from one of the presenters: “energy is the ultimate commodity. An electron does not care where it goes”. Indeed, it goes to the point of least resistance, always. And my takeaway from AEF 2017 is that there has been a quiet revolution, and we, the people, are taking ownership of our energy as early movers are leapfrogging the grid with off and mini grid solutions… [OK, I admit, it is also a function of where I choose to spend my time, with who and in which presentations].

It remains though that I would not have guessed that my takeaways from AEF 2017 would be that:

  • There are already multiple PV parks and industrial installations smoothing the frequency and demand curves of renewable energy with storage
  • That a few small developers would hold an auspicious audience’s attention, about selling solar lamps, like 8 million of them
  • That of these early movers, selling lamps and chargers, and maybe a small TV, some have already sold equity into large banks, on the strength of a digital currency footprint (MPESA)

Yes, the lawyers are here, and so are the banks, trolling the corridors of power, sniffing out the big deals such that there are. But, where in the past their voices mingled with those of large utilities and IPP’s, the brave frontiersmen and women of distributed generation are the ones who are now holding our attention. It is SO very refreshing to walk past a stand of a large developer and over-hear the words “yes, we are also looking into the off-grid space” – of course inevitably followed by the usual “and yes, we can monetise this by a factor of 10X if we follow a fully integrated diversified model”. Just make the electrons, the rest will come!

The electron is the ultimate democrat. If you provide it with a path it will flow. And with barely recognisable speed, I reckon in a matter of 5 – 10 years, the African electricity landscape will have changed completely, unrecognisably, from the present. And soon after, RIP Eskom. In time, your time, will be done. It is for you that the bell tolls.

By Sean Gibson